The Village’s executive office is located on 24 Street South in downtown Birmingham. No, it’s not a new housing development, but rather an organization seeking to help develop life in downtown Birmingham. This office is not on the top floor of a high rise, it’s in an old mechanic’s garage and the top executive is wearing jeans. However, the work done at The Village by Andy Jenkins and his fellow laborers is perhaps the most important work being done in Birmingham today.
A New Type of Ministry
“There’s this big need of poverty when you look at downtown. All the building and all of the growth that they’re touting with the Railroad Park and you’ve got all these other needs. For all the hype that you see, there’s a lot of despair and need down here as well,” Jenkins said.“The idea of going on mission is that you live the gospel and as you live the gospel people are redeemed and the church emerges from that,” Jenkins said. “When you’re downtown and you have a church that’s all white and all middle class, then you didn’t do the gospel.”Jenkins saw needs in downtown Birmingham that were not being addressed by the church where he was serving or by the city government.
The despair Jenkins saw combined with the lack of the church’s reflection of downtown Birmingham’s culture created a desire to build a village for God.
“The Village basically was the result of a week that I spent really praying and fasting about what to actually do, not just theoretically, what to actually do,” Jenkins said.
Loving and Serving
The passion emanating from Jenkins’ words as he describes what led to his founding of The Village three years ago hits a few nerves. With an estimated 2,400 homeless persons in the city, 1,000 teenagers aging out of the foster care system yearly and 2,000 prisoners rejoining society each year in Jefferson County alone, Jenkins’ passion is necessary.
“There’s a big vacuum down here of the hope of the gospel, and if the church is the hope of the world then there should be a strong force of the church downtown and there’s rumblings of it,” Jenkins said. “But it’s not hit what it could be.”
The Village helps cause those rumblings through their various programs.
The unique part about their approach to serving the lost and broken in Birmingham is The Village’s year-long holistic growth track that helps residents stay focused and goal oriented as they work toward becoming whole persons once more.
The growth track encompasses four core values: identity, relationships, directions and purpose. Tasks involved within the growth track cover the necessities like obtaining basic forms of identification and building a budget to maintaining sobriety and attending weekly worship services.
Jonette Moore, a former resident, who now serves as coordinator of the women’s programs and all transportation services at The Village, attributes her growth and wholeness to the foundation of faith on which the program is built.
“I was kind of angry at first, because I really wanted to go home, but God just kind of spoke to me and told me to be still,” Moore said. “So I did that and just started listening in class, started listening at church and started growing and could feel him working again in my life.”
Moore said she saw herself grow during her eight months at The Village, and her family notices the change.
“I’ve learned over the years to not try to convince anyone that I’ve changed or that it’s different this time and I didn’t do that this time. I just let it be what it is. And my family can see the difference, and my mom is like ‘Are you my child?’ because things I normally would have blown up about, I don’t,” Moore said. “So she can see the difference and that’s how I know it’s working. And it’s still working.”
Moore’s successful completion of the growth track shows residents that healing and change are possible because of her visible example.
“It helps to have that in my history and be able to see both sides of it, and at the same time, it makes it a lot easier for them to open up to me,” Moore said.
Moore said that the foundation of faith on which the program is built influences each step of the growth track. And rather than “beating them over the head with the Bible,” it helps residents re-align their life.
“We pray that when they complete this that they are ready to face life on life’s terms.”
A Life Restoration Thing
The Village’s mission of loving and serving the city of Birmingham manifests itself in their work.
Downtown Birmingham needs an injection of love and service rather than grass, paint or new buildings. Jenkins sees a negative trend in the focus on the “stuff and things” that don’t give healing to the broken.
“We don’t really need a park and trees if everybody is broken and can’t go,” Jenkins said.
That is where The Village’s mission comes in. Downtown needs long-term investment to heal the broken people.
A partner of The Village, The Dreamcenter in Woodlawn, is one of those longterm investments. Thursday evenings at the Dreamcenter are part of The Village’s growth track. Residents fellowship over hot-off-the-grill hot dogs and then take part in a worship service led by Church of the Highlands staff and Jenkins’ heartfelt sermon.
A New Kind of Mall
An idea was hatched in March 2010 that has the potential to change the face of not only The Village, but all faith-based non-profits in Birmingham. After touring the former Carraway Hospital complex, The Village staff began imagining an expansion that would put The Village and a multitude of other faith-based non-profits under the same roof.
“So what you’ve created is a model where anybody can walk in the front door and any need that anybody has, you can meet that in the name of Christ by some ministry that’s there,” Jenkins said.
In 11 floors, the vision for the Carraway Hospital creates a “ministry mall” for any hurting or broken person.
Each floor serves a specific function that continues what The Village does today, such as getting men and women off of the streets and into a stable living environment. Services would expand to housing a floor for a state-certified drug-rehabilitation facility as well as creating new programs for interns, short-term mission trips and providing space for 100 other Christ-centered, non-profit organizations.
“The idea was be a small city within a bigger city that loves, serves and blesses the bigger city, not in opposition to it, but for it,” Jenkins said. “It’s a life restoration thing, you want to find broken people and heal those people.”
The Carraway project now awaits approval from the Birmingham City Council, before the project can begin. Despite city politics, The Village continues its mission to love and serve downtown Birmingham.